The earth’s shadowy carcass haunts the parched soil as a cursed darkened mirror. The bounties of earthly delights wither with lifeless joy. The cascading locks of dirt offer a retched promise that quickly conceals itself through the sedimentation of time. What this sedimentation occludes materialises as a lingering shadow bereft of meaning, detectable only as a blackened scent, a pungent screech of light. If this scent would recede we may classify this as a normal scene, but we cannot. The shadows of this absence ensnare the wasteland and entwine the walls. As they do we find ourselves bound to the kingdom of shadows.
In this ninth part of our interview with Daniel & Clara, Bradley Tuck talks with them about their film The Kingdom of Shadows. Along the way they discuss biblical stories, religious iconography, memories, dreams, family histories, horror and other film influences
The Kingdom of Shadows can be viewed here, and the DVD can be purchased here.
Artists Daniel & Clara have been collaborating since 2010 on moving image work, performance and photography. Since meeting they have worked exclusively together seeing themselves as two halves of a single artist. Alongside their work as artists they also publish their own magazine Film Panic. Throughout 2018 they will be collaborating extensively with Exploding Appendix as resident artists and, alongside this interview, will be collaborating on events, screenings and film projects.
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Bradley: It is a pleasure to be able to turn our attention to The Kingdom of Shadows (2016), which is such a visually enticing piece of cinema. It is full of a plethora of images, each of which seem to resonate at a symbolic level. Nothing simply feels like ‘the action’ or ‘the story’, everything has a sense of being more, or meaning more. Having recently watched, and discussed with you, The Quest for the Cine-Rebis, the two films felt even more continuous. The lighting of the match, the strange chandeliers, the sound of wind, the removal of shoes… All these things are apparent in both films. The Quest for the Cine-Rebis is, of course, a manifesto, and so all these elements take on a deeper significance because of that. It is harder to say what The Kingdom of Shadows is. At points it is a religious epic based on the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, this, of course, imbues each act with a religious connotation. At other points it feels like a drama with tones of a mystery or a ghost story, where a family are held up in an old house during a blizzard and are visited by an inspector and a ghost. Then there is a third element which is the alchemist. All these elements combine to produce a really beautiful film, with stunning moments and compelling performances.
Maybe you could start by telling me a little bit about the film from your perspective. How do all these elements come together in your understanding of the film and the process of its creation?
Daniel & Clara: First of all, we’d like to just say a little bit about the film psyche, a term we’ve created to describe the conceptual framework of our films, this should help with understanding how a lot of our creative decisions are made, particularly in The Kingdom Of Shadows.
The film psyche is a way of making a film that treats the entire universe of the film as a single unit of consciousness, this includes not only the characters but also the locations, objects, clothes, sound, music, colour, texture. Everything that exists on screen is a part of this, all are on an equal footing when considered within the framework of the film psyche. In this context the actor characters aren’t to be seen as fully rounded psychological units, they are only parts of the whole. We could equally look at the other elements as characters, such as the house, the wind, fire, colour, darkness etc.
The easiest way to think of it might be to see that the film itself is the main character and that everything contained within it are simply parts, they can of course be inspected individually but they are all parts of a whole. Like the organs and limbs are a part of a body, they all serve a function and cannot be separated from each other. The film itself is a representation of consciousness, everything affects each other in the same way that our own moment-to-moment consciousness is affected by our moods, feelings, memories, thoughts, physical condition and environment.
So if one wants to understand the film, we have to consider all the elements together and look at them in a different way to most conventional narrative films. If one element changes and breaks through into a new set of circumstances, that causes all the other elements to be in a different situation too, in this way affecting the whole again. Everything moves together and the differences between the various elements help create a more complex and nuanced picture than if we were simply concentrating on one element or symbol. But focusing in on a single element of the film might help us understand the general journey that the whole film goes through, and this could be done with any aspect of the film – we could ask, for example, what is the darkness doing throughout the film? How is the darkness affected by what we see before it and how does it affect what we see after it? What other elements does it seem related to, and how do these change as the film moves? The same questions could be asked of the actor characters: what does Cain do throughout the film? How is he affected by what we see before him and how does he affect what we see after him? What other elements does he seem related to and how do they change as the film moves?
In light of the film psyche, it should be clearer how the three narrative strands – the alchemist, the lovers and the family – are all connected and all parts of the whole that makes the single unit that is The Kingdom Of Shadows.
The lovers are the mythical foundational image, the primordial one-being that separates into two and then goes through a journey of reconciliating that split. Adam and Eve are that image in our culture, their fall from paradise has been one of the most recurrent subjects of art. For centuries we’ve been meditating on their actions and their fate, with many different interpretations, many retellings and stories spinning off from the official mainstream version (especially in alchemical traditions). These reinterpretations we believe are attempts to come to terms with, to heal and resolve the psychological or spiritual state it represents.
The family represents the basis upon which stands our more personal perspective, it is the primary condition that shapes who we are and our experience of the world, and the home is the space that houses everything that exists within our psychological make-up. This family are descendants of Adam and Eve, their inheritance is the psychological and spiritual state created by the fall of Adam and Eve and in this film they are stuck in a moment of psychological development. Their life is not their own, they live in a state of stupor, repeating actions and haunting the house like phantoms. They are themselves haunted too by their ancestors and possessed by their fears and denied desires. Lost in a somnambulist state and unable to break out, they are tied up in a knot, which we try to untie in this film.
The alchemist here is the activator of the narrative, s/he is the one whose actions call forth that which lays hidden below the surface and instigates healing. S/He stirs the waters of the unconscious and holds on through the whole work of transformation, which allows for things to move beyond the point of stunted growth.
These three strands exist simultaneously in The Kingdom Of Shadows, we could see them as representations of different layers of consciousness: the family layer with its more developed and numerous elements as the closest to consciousness, Cain and Abel and Adam and Eve as the deeper, older and more unconscious layers. But still their actions have direct consequences on each other, across dimensions – the unresolved struggle between the mythical Adam and Eve sets up the family dynamics, while the family’s inability to communicate and empathise with each other maintains the rift between dimensions; Cain’s crimes appear in every empty corridor and corner of the house and the cold wind of the wasteland blows through the house as much as through the barren mountains.
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Bradley: It is fascinating that you understand the film in this way. It sounds like you are presenting a topology of the psyche. The way I understand your description, the family section takes place within the ego and is generally connected to our field of consciousness, the Adam and Eve/Cain and Abel sections take place within our collective unconscious, and the alchemist, unconscious too, activates and organises the narrative as a whole. This is a very particular way of thinking and organising our thoughts about the film, and this leads me to ask some questions: To what extent do you take this to be a kind of theory of the psyche? What drove you to understand the film’s psyche in this way? To what extent were these decisions drawn from theory and to what extend were they drawn from your own creative impulses?
Daniel & Clara: That’s an interesting way to look at it, we certainly didn’t approach the film with an intention to create a topology of the psyche but we are definitely open to that reading in The Kingdom Of Shadows, especially as this film is dealing with a particular psychological/spiritual condition which has deep roots within ourselves, so to express it properly it meant having to dig through all these layers, separate them in order to see them better and work on each of them to create new configurations. But we would not use that as a definition of the film psyche, in other films which we’ve created using the film psyche framework it would be less possible to read a topology of the human psyche in their structure.
For us the film psyche is a thing in itself and is treated as if it is its own container of consciousness. It is not a framework to attempt to illustrate the human psyche, it is more that we are approaching the film as its own non-human psychological unit. As if a work of art, and for us the film in particular, is a thing that exists as a living unit of consciousness, born through human creators but existing beyond and separate from them, in the same way that a garden is cultivated by humans but is not the creation of humans.
This is a conceptual framework as well as an approach that has come about for us from a constellation of several things – one is the years of studying our personal dreams, psychology, mythology and the history of cinema, as well as our interest in gardening and permaculture; another is perhaps just the nature of our daily artistic practice, our particular metabolism and personalities, our understanding of our own creativity and creative process. This is a theory drawn from process, a continuous dialogue between intuitive creation followed by reflection. Our process is never 100% pure unconscious creative outpouring, there is always a 50/50 relationship between expression then analysis followed by more expression, that goes on until the work is done. Theory is born from us looking at what is given to us by the process, it is always provisional and being re-articulated as the process takes us into new territories. So we could say the film psyche is a conceptual framework that articulates our relationship to the material that the creative process brings forth, it is not a theory of human psychology but a system for discovering what could be called ‘cinematic consciousness’. Whether this is something that exists or not isn’t the question for us, maybe it is just a way of seeing the material of our work and dealing with it differently to how it would be through most narrative, symbolic, technical and film-theory conventions.
We cannot stress enough how in our films the non-human elements have the same importance as the human characters, for us they are equally imbued with will and consciousness. Elements of the film such as the wind, the house or darkness, or even the surface and texture of the image itself, these things are not simply signs for something, they are true symbols, real manifestations of things that cannot be articulated in any other way. In fact we have made short films that focus in on single elements such as these, without discarding narrative or affectivity. The film psyche as a framework allows us to do this and to have the right approach, it has to do with how meaning is constructed from the relationship between parts, how all the parts are inter-related but also independent to a point. Perhaps it is connected with a less anthropocentric view on things, it mirrors the relationship between all cells and the living organism they compose, or all life-forms and the life system they compose – all the components are equally important and they affect each other intrinsically.
Bradley: Yes, there is a kind of holism in your approach to film. That is holism, if by holism we mean a kind of refusal to simply see the film as an itinerary of parts. The film has meaning as a whole. Phenomenologically speaking we don’t simply walk into a garden and see merely flowers, grass, trees, a little pond and all the component parts. The garden appears as a whole, it creates an environment, but it also approaches us as a whole, analogous to our experience of another person. A person may appear in a particular way. We could do an itinerary of their body parts, their actions and words, but such an itinerary would never capture what it means to encounter this person. These different parts create for us a sense and an understanding that far extends beyond what is imminently present. We will never know the every action of this body. We will never share their subjective perspective, but somehow we encounter each other as wholes. These bodies appear to us as unique wholes, with their own sensibilities and personalities. Metaphorically speaking something similar happens when we encounter a garden or a film. They do not appear as mere parts collected together, but wholes with unique characteristics, sensibilities and ‘personalities’.
For me this hints at what we might call the pantheistic dimension of your thinking. Gardens, films, never merely people, have their own psyche. As you say “Elements of the film such as the wind, the house or darkness, or even the surface and texture of the image itself, these things are not simply signs for something, they are true symbols, real manifestations of things that cannot be articulated in any other way.” It is as if we are never presented with the mere markers of some transcendent divinity, but rather that the divine is in everything and everything is divine. For the theist, as has often historically been the case, pantheism is as good as atheism. If God is merely everything, every element and every law of nature, it is as if God is nothing. God as a transcendent being ceases to stand above, separate from creation. Yet for the secularist, or atheist, pantheism risks importing something godly or spiritual into nature itself. If God is in everything, if God is nature, if God is the sum total of things then nature itself is mystified. So a strange doubling takes place. God is nowhere; God is everywhere.
Something similar might be said of the presence or lack of anthropocentrism in your work. On the one hand, the wind, the house or the darkness decentre this anthropocentrism. The darkness, that which is not us, exists as if it has a psyche beyond us. Yet this ‘not us’ also appears as a kind of person, as a kind of anthropomorphism, everything becomes human. The human is nowhere, the human is everywhere.
This is dramatised in the scene in which many black hands emerge from the darkness and reach around Adam and Eve pulling them apart. It is as if that which is ‘not us’ reaches out and touches us and does this as if it was us. It is both us and not us. This ‘us that is not us’ is also capable of destroying us, of making us ‘not us’. Maybe we could describe this ‘us-that-is-not-us’ as God, or as nature, or maybe it is something human, something within us, projected as something beyond us. Maybe all of these things. There is almost a kind of chiasma (X), or maybe even lemniscate (∞), at work.
It is in light of this that I think we should approach the appeal to Adam and Eve. On the one hand it could be read as an entirely secular, or even psychological, presentation of Adam and Eve. There seems to be no obvious presentation of God, or even any substantive Christian theology, such as references to original sin etc. It is, in fact, tempting to interpret it more as a kind of original trauma, rather than original sin. On the other hand, it isn’t MERELY secular. There is something alien there, something beyond us, that is there, everywhere in the film, in the wind and in the darkness and it reaches out and touches us.
This Edenic theme runs throughout your work. There is something very Edenic about those gardens in Savage Witches and Splendor Solis. The title of Sacrificium Intellectus suggests a turning away from the knowledge of good and evil and a return to a kind of Edenic religious obedience and devotion. The Quest for Cine-Rebis, the written manifesto especially, seems continuous with a long literary tradition of retelling the fall as a critique of modernity and its crises. So it seems clear to me that this story has been hovering there, shaping your ideas in some form or another. Maybe you could explain this a little. How has this story shaped your work, and this film in particular? How does it relate to alchemical versions of this story (of which I know very little)? Do you see your retelling as pantheistic, or sharing characteristics mentioned above?
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Daniel & Clara: It is a very daunting task to say how this story has shaped our work, perhaps it is beyond us at this point in time, we could probably write volumes on how our work is dealing with the themes of paradise, eden gardens and creation myths. Looking back at everything we’ve done we can always see traces of it, as if it’s an underlying image that permeates everything we’ve done, both separately and since we’ve started collaborating, but which we’ve become more conscious of as time goes by. Maybe it is as simple as that we are ultimately concerned with creativity, the act of creation itself, its purpose and its nature, and that is what this story is about, it is the foundational creation myth of our culture and so it very much sets up how we experience and conceive creativity, how we see ourselves as humans in a whole cosmology, so to reinterpret the story is a creative way to reconfigure the possibilities of creativity itself as well as of humanity and the cosmos. Of course, all this is done primarily through intuition and is worked out through the making of the work, we did not set this out as our task as artists, it is more that we’ve found ourselves led here through our journey. At all times what is guiding us is a feeling of urgency, a desire to understand ourselves and try to be in a harmony, we are dealing with the material of ourselves, our bodies, our souls, our psychologies and personal histories, working through those in a way that feels essential and urgent – but we do believe that from the material of themselves, everyone has the ability to touch every aspect of being and the whole of the cosmos.
This actually connects with an image that we often encounter in alchemy, which is the figure of Adam as a kind of Cosmic Man, whose body is the soul of man. This is understood as a primordial or archetypal image of humankind, a form from which every human emerges, that alchemists use almost as a map, imagining the whole infrastructure of this body divided up in various arrangements that configure the relationships between god, human beings and the world. Some Jungians find parallels between this kind of image and the maps that tantric traditions have made of the chakra system of the body, or the subtle body in Taoist alchemy. The western alchemist’s mission seemed to be to reconcile the divine with matter, a connection which is severed in our culture and in our psyche, but which has not been so in other cultures, at least up to recently. Part of the alchemist’s work was about re-weaving the myths to fit with their new understanding of humankind and nature. For example, one of our favourite stories from medieval times is a legend of how Adam, being over 900 years old and on his deathbed, called his third son Seth and asked him to go back to Paradise and fetch him some oil of mercy. Seth sets off and retraces the path taken by his parents after the fall by following their blackened footprints through a barren landscape, their fateful footsteps of so long ago had left the land scorched and burned. As he approaches Paradise, a vertical line of fire appears before him, it is the sword of Archangel Michael who guards the gates to Eden. The Archangel tells him that a long time still has to pass before Adam receives pardon for his disobedience, but that the wood from which humankind’s redemption will be won will grow from Adam’s grave. He gives him three seeds and tells him to place them on Adam’s tongue when he is buried. Seth goes back and tells Adam what happened, which causes him to laugh for the first time since he was expelled from Paradise. Eventually Adam dies, Seth does as he was told, and from Adam’s grave grow three trees: a cypress, a pine and a cedar. The three are so intertwined with each other that they form a single new type of tree, magnificent to behold. To cut a long story short, many things come to pass over time that are witnessed by the tree and its branches are used in many significant occasions all leading up to the coming of Christ, who is also called the Second Adam. The Romans cut down the tree to make the cross that is used in the Crucifixion, which takes place over the very soil where Adam was buried. So it happens that the blood of Christ on the cross falls on the skull of Adam at the base of the cross, thus baptising and redeeming him. The skull and bones of Adam under the cross are present in many paintings of the Crucifixion, created over the centuries.
This connection between Christ and Adam was very significant for alchemists, maybe as an effort to actualise in their world the step that these figures represent mythologically, that from one figure to the other divinity is no more a separate entity creator of humankind but that each human can awaken to the divinity within themselves and live according to that principle. But the greatest problem for alchemists was the awareness that the image of Christ was still missing something. Divinity in Christianity was not only lacking in a recognition of a feminine principle equal to the masculine, but also the new divine masculine itself seemed split in two: Christ and the Anti-Christ. According to Joseph Campbell, these two issues are at the centre of what the medieval romance tradition and Arthurian legends are dealing with. In alchemy, we often find images of a King and Queen who are buried, and then go through a process of putrefaction and decomposition until they turn to skeletons, and then emerge from the earth again as new androgynous beings. It seems that for the alchemists the processes of nature held the key to the secrets of life, they tried to trust these and believe what they saw empirically in nature, but when this didn’t fit with the philosophical and religious views given by official channels, they were compelled to bypass orthodox interpretations and applied the same material processes to the mythological images themselves. Their imaginations were ignited and they came up with a lot of very original and unorthodox material that they couldn’t completely comprehend themselves but which we find fascinating and liberating. It is worth saying that our understanding of alchemy is strongly informed by a Jungian perspective.
Our thoughts about Adam and Eve were also influenced by researching Gnostic versions of Genesis, these ones are also more interesting especially in relation to Eve and the nature of the god of the Old Testament. In many of these scriptures Adam and Eve come into being in a different way. When Adam is created he has no soul, he exists in a deep sleep, and Eve, who is a daughter of Sophia, a pre-existing divinity, takes human shape so she can be Adam’s instructor, she awakens him and gives him a spiritual consciousness. There is one scripture in which they make a point of saying that something existed before the supposed chaos and darkness of the beginning, that in fact there was no beginning at all, and a whole host of entities and divinities are mentioned who have both masculine and feminine names, who have existed before the god of the Old Testament. This god isn’t aware that all this exists beyond him so he thinks he is the only creator, but when he creates humankind he begins to realise the limits of his power and is not only furious but also frightened, it takes him aeons to realise his true position in the scheme of things. In another scripture, this god who is called Samael is so jealous of Eve and Adam’s unity that he rapes her and from this rape she conceives Cain and Abel. Later with Adam she conceives their true son Seth. In another version Eve conceives her first offspring of herself, an androgynous being who is called the beast and who becomes the wisest of all beings. In the various versions of Gnostic scriptures, what transpires is the view of Adam and Eve not as supposedly historical figures whose function is to provide a morality tale, but as representations of two inner principles that exist within every human being whose existence is not historical but mythological, they belong to the plane of eternity where images come and go, and they can and must be continuously reshaped in order to respond to the present consciousness. This myth and the figures of Adam and Eve might not feel relevant to everyone but our culture is still impregnated with it and for us there is something liberating about there being many complex and contradictory interpretations of this same image, both in storytelling as in visual traditions. Ultimately this is a myth that speaks of the human condition and that is something that touches all, and that all can touch.
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Bradley: This is all very fascinating, especially because many of these symbols are present within the film, such as the tree at the end, and the body of Abel.
These biblical stories are also attempts to tell the origins of evil. Whether that be Adam and Eve’s original sin, or Cain’s murder of Abel, these are stories that attempt to explain how evil and death came into being. In the film, in the case of Adam and Eve we see them eating ‘forbidden fruit’ in the form of apples and then witness the trauma that appears to haunt them (especially Eve).
We do not witness Cain’s murder of Abel, but we do witness his exile. So the murder is not directly presented, but it looms throughout the film. I get a sense that, maybe, this could be understood as a murder mystery. There is an inspector visiting the house where many different family members are held up. That is often the set up for a murder mystery, but it is simultaneously a biblical story about Cain’s murder of Abel. Cain’s exile seems far more entwined with this family story. Unlike Adam and Eve whose story seems more separate, Cain appears to be watching the family and the two stories merge towards the end of the film. So they overlap and it becomes apparent that they are both related to this same crime.
The other thought in relation to the Cain strand of the story is its parallels to the wanderer’s exile in In Search of the Exile. Not only do they both have the same actor, but they both explore this similar theme of exile. In a way it is almost as if the two films are in dialogue with each other.
I wonder if you could explain a little about what these themes and stories mean to you (the story of Cain and Abel, the first murder, the origin of evil, the exile). How do you understand them? How did your interrogation of this story of Cain and the related themes influence this film?
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Daniel & Clara: Actually Cain’s murder of Abel is shown in the film, in fact he murders him twice in two different places, once in the walled garden and once in the wasteland, he probably murders him many more times over and over, trapped eternally in repeating a moment of fear, jealousy and anger. What Cain seems to point to here is an act that happened in the past, many generations ago, that still holds an influence over the current situation of the family, it is a curse that traps them which they are unable to break.
As this film deals with origins it is on one level a personal exploration of our own origins, our own childhoods and particularly our family history, dealing with the stories of our ancestors and the communities we grew up in, and unpicking how our psychological condition is shaped and influenced by these things. We asked ourselves what do we carry from the past that restricts us in the present and how can we release ourselves from these things, how can we break the curses that cast shadows over our lives.
The film was shot in Clara’s grandmother’s house which had been closed up and unused for many years since her grandfather had died. The costumes and jewellery the actors wear belonged to our families, some dead and some still living, we also used props and objects that had a personal significance to us, items from childhood and also props we’ve used in our previous films. In this sense the film is a ritual, we are re-enacting scenes from both family history and also dreams as well as the mythological references, but all reworked through the imagination in order to boil to the surface what lays beneath. We need to first dig down and find out what is buried in our gardens before we can understand why the flowers grow the way they do.
The film weaves together fragments of many many dreams but two dreams that we had back in 2011, around the time we were working on Savage Witches, stuck with us and later felt like the first seeds for The Kingdom Of Shadows. Daniel dreamt that he was an archaeologist working in a large open field in the shadow of a mountain, he dug in the earth finding ancestral objects, he broke the ground open in big chunks and revealed hidden rivers underneath. Clara dreamt that she was in her family’s home, the one we filmed The Kingdom Of Shadows in, she searched through the house, looking in all the rooms, she went to the basement and cooked her grandfather in a giant saucepan.
Of course all of this material then met with the performers, and even though they were selected by us based on what they looked like and whether they could perform for us, they also carried with them their own personalities that impacted on the shape the film took and how we dealt with this material. None of the cast for The Kingdom Of Shadows were trained actors, they’re a mix of dancers, artists and filmmakers of different nationalities (Portuguese, British, Iranian, Romanian) whom we’ve brought together for a long weekend in order to shoot the main sections of the film. We didn’t do any auditions or rehearsals, we cast on instinct and chance. The characters in this film are all archetypal, and to a certain degree the personalities were quite vague, so that when we found performers we wanted to collaborate with we could allow for their personality and physical form to shape out the character. We also developed a way of directing and shooting which gave us confidence that we could bring out a performance from all these people who had very different experiences. We started the shoot by doing a visualisation with everyone in the main room of the house where we played the sound of the wind from the wasteland, this set up the atmosphere and put everyone in the right frequency from the start through to the end of the shoot. As we said before, we also direct silently and talk each actor through the scenes while we’re filming, this allows us to respond specifically to each actor’s needs and also to create the scene in a dialogue with them – we have to tune in to each other, they respond to what we say and we respond to how they move and physically interpret our directions, step by step we get to something that feels very alive, the scene sometimes moves beyond our expectations, even revealing things of the action that we couldn’t predict. All of this is always in reference and response to the core material that we prepare beforehand, but it deals with it through the act of being in the space and how we move and perform it through our bodies. In The Kingdom Of Shadows we eliminated spoken dialogue so we could focus our attention with the performers entirely on movement and gesture, we felt this was absolutely essential to the core of this exploration, a movement can express an entire history, a whole psychological condition and inner life, in a very immediate way.
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Bradley: Yes, you are absolutely right that we do witness Abel’s murder, but never in a way that feels direct. It feels like a flashback, or as if Cain’s murder of Abel was so horrific that it has left an imprint in the soil, the house and general atmosphere. It is as if Abel’s murder haunts Cain, not simply as a memory of Cain’s, but as if it is scorched into the retina of the earth. This is part of a general sense of this being a world, where time is fractured and space is impregnated.
For me, Adam and Eve feel ‘out of time’, dislocated and estranged. Where Cain seems connected in some way to the house, Adam and Eve’s story is self contained. There is a distance between theirs and the other stories. There is also a sense in which their story is ‘closed’, ‘finished’, ‘fated’, we know what happens to them. So they are ‘out of time’ in a double sense.
Whilst Abel’s murder haunts Cain, Cain himself seems to haunt the house. Cain’s ‘haunting’ doesn’t necessarily have to be read as him being a ghost. There are times when he appears to be part of the living, but even if he is fully alive, he nonetheless approaches the house as a spectre. So he seems to be ‘out of time’, dislocated and estranged too, but more in the way that a family member might be estranged, yet also, in a way, still there. He seems out of time, but in a way, still in time.
The family in the house, in a way, seem to me to be the closest to existing in time. There is a sense that the house is set ‘now’, not ‘now’ meaning some contemporary period, but ‘now’ as a kind of anchor point within the stream of consciousness. The house seems to be the place where this is all happening and Cain, Abel, Adam and Eve appear as if they are flashbacks or hauntings. Yet the house feels ‘out of time’, dislocated and estranged in a different way. In the house, the phenomenology of time seems weird. Everything feels too slow, this is amplified by the loud ticking of the clock against a silent room. It is almost as if we are encountering a weird tale, where time itself is elevated to the level of a monstrosity. This concept of time might be understood in relation to Mark Fisher’s account of the eerie, which, for him, “is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present when there should be nothing, or if there is nothing present when there should be something.” (Mark Fisher, The Weird And The Eerie. Repeater. London 2016 p. 61) He later goes on to add “the central enigma at its core is the problem of agency.” (Fisher, p.63). This might be said to apply to the house’s strange sense of time. On the one hand, the ticking clock suggests that time is pretty normal. The clock is not too fast or too slow, but the sense of time (the phenomenology of time we could say) doesn’t seem right. On the one hand, this sense of time suggests a kind of absence. It feels all-too-silent as if all love and tenderness have been driven out. The slow awkward moments of a family sitting together, touching and caressing each other feels uncomfortable, as if there is something abusive about this relationship, especially in relation to the daughter. Everything feels too slow, too cold, too awkward. On the other hand, time seems to have an agency where it shouldn’t. It is as if time is being deliberately slow, and these deliberate acts on behalf of time serves to haunt the home. The home is also dislocated. It is not only ‘out of time’, but ‘out of space’. It feels isolated, cordoned off by the wind. If this section feels the most like our stream of consciousness, to which all the other aspects of the film appear as if apparitions then it isn’t so much that it is isolated from us, but that we are isolated with it. The house itself is a kind of exile.
Finally the house itself seems symbolically charged and impregnated with ghostly apparitions. It is strange, and estranged. Nothing, even in the more domestic scenes feels right. It is as if the house itself is a character. The house itself may appear as a kind of centre of gravity/stream of consciousness, but this in no way entails a naturalism. It is haunted by many ghostly figures (the Grandmother’s ghost seems central to the daughter’s story). Every action and every object appears symbolically charged: the egg that transforms into coins, the soil, the leaves, the strange, and strained, movements and gestures of the family members. There is also a sense that every object in the house might be ‘possessed’, the chandeliers give off a strange energy. So at this level you could read this film in the tradition of weird tales and ghost stories. How do you understand this film in relation to the ghostly and the eerie?
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Daniel & Clara: Whenever a film or a story is about ghosts it is dealing with the past. A ghost is a remnant or echo of something that has physically gone but for some reason still has some impact on the present. Much of what we are dealing with in this film is about the past – the past of our culture’s mythology, our personal family histories, our psychological history, and cinema’s past – how what has gone still lingers in the present and has some kind of influence over it. As the title suggests, this place is one of shadows, a place not of physical things in themselves but of impressions left by something now gone.
The title was taken from one of the first ever film reviews written by Maxim Gorky in 1896, in it he says:
“Last night I was in the Kingdom of Shadows. If you only knew how strange it is to be there. It is a world without sound, without colour. Every thing there—the earth, the trees, the people, the water and the air—is dipped in monotonous grey. Grey rays of the sun across the grey sky, grey eyes in grey faces, and the leaves of the trees are ashen grey. It is not life but its shadow, it is not motion but its soundless spectre.”
This mysterious image of what it was like to encounter cinema for the first time really struck us, cinema as a phantom reality that one can actually enter but that is also something not entirely natural or real, otherworldly and somewhat dark. This description in a way could be read as describing a mythic wasteland image, a world in which colour and life seems to have been washed away.
In regards to the title, we were of course also thinking of the Jungian shadow. As much of the film is also drawn from situations found within our own dreams, we wanted to attempt to make steps towards becoming conscious of our own shadows, those darker parts of ourselves that hide in our blind spots but affect who we are and how we deal with the people around us. Sometimes we can become aware of our shadow when we catch ourselves snapping or overreacting to something, we can see it also in how others respond to our behaviour and in those reoccurring situations of conflict or struggle we encounter throughout our lives. By studying our dreams we can find a lot of clues to what our shadow nature is like. The world of cinema and the world of dreams is clearly connected for us and both could be called The Kingdom Of Shadows, a place where images move and have a life of their own but are not quite of the physical reality which we live in.
The Kingdom Of Shadows as a title also has some strong biblical connotations, it is almost the opposite of the kingdom of light or the kingdom of heaven, in the way that it doesn’t point to some afterlife or thing to come, it is a thing that is behind us and that casts a darkness over the present.
The feeling of a shadow moving through a house or a gloomy corner where sunlight doesn’t reach stirs up feelings of childhood fears of the dark. Also that familiar feeling of being alone at home watching a scary movie and suddenly finding that the familiar surroundings have become creepy as you turn on all the lights to go to the bathroom in fear that some monster may be lurking in a corner of an unlit hallway or under the stairs!
The old dark house is a reoccurring motif of horror stories and films, we love movies about haunted houses such as The Uninvited (1944), House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Haunting (1963), The Entity (1982), The Changeling (1979) and one of our favourites, The Old Dark House (1932), an absolute masterpiece by James Whale.
The symbol of the house turns up repeatedly in our work, almost as much as Adam & Eve and it is certainly related. The house and the garden are very similar and connected symbols. The whole world of one’s childhood exists around the house, it is the foundational space of our lives where we shape our view of the world and reality. The various rooms of a home are charged with different energies and purposes, when you see a room in a film you don’t always need to see a scene take place to know the kind of activity that happens there, an empty room can speak for itself, it has a personality and the scenes that have or could take place there seem to exist either way. The haunted house manifests this explicitly when narrative conventions are adhered to: noises and movements usually are the first signs that the past has awakened, later to be joined by apparitions or possessions. In our film it is almost like every character is simultaneously a ghost and is haunted by something or someone, the house itself is haunted by the family as the family are haunted by the house. Everyone and everything here is possessed by something, we see the physical manifestations of what animates them but never the thing behind it all – they are driven by unseen forces, the forces influencing and controlling the movements and behaviour, that’s the thing we can never see.
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Bradley: It is interesting that in almost every film you have made there is a kind of engagement with the cinematic, the religious (or spiritual) and ‘the psyche’. These three layers sometimes overlap, for example the cinematic is treated as something spiritual, or religious iconography is used to reveal something about the psyche, and so on. These three themes really overlap in interesting ways throughout your work.
In our discussion of The Kingdom of Shadows, I feel constantly drawn back to the sense that this is a chiasmic film. In describing the film there is a sense that everything has an A-B B-A structure to it. As you yourselves say, “In our film it is almost like every character is simultaneously a ghost and is haunted by something or someone, the house itself is haunted by the family as the family are haunted by the house.” Everything seems to mirror its opposite.
Likewise it simultaneously feels as if God is everywhere and nowhere. I guess the fact that this is a world cursed by God, gives it at once a sense that it is both ‘God-less’, empty, disenchanted, but also laced with God’s presence and enchanted. So again, it is tempting to describe it as a kind of contradiction: A world that is both with God and without God. Furthermore, everything (including the wind and the rain) take on the characteristics of a being, but the characters also appear almost as if they are mere objects following the spasmodic forces of nature. This gives it an eerie quality because everything that ‘shouldn’t have agency’ presents a greater sense of agency, whilst that which ‘should have agency’ can sometimes act cold, or as if they aren’t particularly in control, like they are elements like everything else.
On another level, we could read these scenes as a domestic drama, or even period drama. There is a lot of awkward body language between the family and this is often tense and fascinating to watch. Take, for example, the scene where the mother is trying to seduce the inspector. This is certainly not the conventional seduction scene. Even though she seems to be behaving excessively and he is really not responding to her advances, there is a strange sense of repression on both sides. These scenes in the house don’t particularly feel like a biblical epic, they feel like a late 19th Century or early twentieth century melodrama. Of course, this is in part due to your use of family clothing and your exploration of family history, but it is also an interesting presentation of a domestic drama expressed through gestures and body language.
In a way I guess your role here as filmmakers is closer to the figure of the alchemist. There is a sense in which you are bringing together different elements and creating something new. There is also a sense that you are returning to the Rebis image at the end of The Quest for the Cine-Rebis. At the end of the written version of The Quest for the Cine-Rebis we encounter the image of the Rebis from Medieval alchemy, which, in this illustration, has one body, but both male and female heads. At the end of the film version of The Quest for the Cine-Rebis, your two faces merge together. In this film the Alchemist appears with both breasts and a penis. So this figure, or something like this figure appears to be a reoccurring motif.
It is also tempting to say that at some level the theme of gender runs throughout your films. Savage Witches seems to be a film exploring what it feels like to be a teenage girl, growing up and finding one’s place in the world. It feels to me like a coming of age film, and for some reason the gender choice seems important. I feel like it would profoundly alter the film if it was about a boy and a girl, two boys or any other combination. There is certainly a sense that gender as a kind of ‘outfit’ or ‘costume’ is being explored and played with in both Sacrificium Intellectus and Splendor Solis. The images of the lovers in In Search of the Exile and Adam and Eve and the family in The Kingdom of Shadows all seem to be drawing upon archetypal images of the male and the female. These themes resurface in an interesting way in Black Sun, which we will discuss in the next instalment.
Finally, we should probably note that the alchemist strand stands out in this film. It is not exactly clear how the alchemist relates to the film and what s/he is doing there. How does the alchemist relate to the biblical story? How does the Alchemist relate to the house? There is a sense in which the alchemist is possibly manipulating the other events on screen, and has a kind of power and distance that the other characters lack, but it isn’t at all clear. What is the significance of the alchemist for you, and how does the alchemist figure relate to the other themes mentioned above?
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Daniel & Clara: For us the alchemist is perhaps the element of the film most close to consciousness, s/he represents an awareness of how all the elements are related and is her/him-self the retort through which the work is carried out. The alchemist is not only conscious but actively engaged with the work of transformation, that is not to say s/he is controlling it but more that s/he is consciously receiving it. When their golden hands touch the waters of the unconscious, this is a conscious act that activates the narrative, calling forth that which lays hidden below the surface in order to heal. The alchemist holds on through the storm, through the disintegration and re-balancing of the various forces at work, and ultimately experiences in their own self the effects of the transformation. We could say s/he is the point where matter meets spirit, where the work is actualised. Once we have gone as far as we could, s/he is also the one guiding us out and turning off the light on this dream.
You are right in pointing out that the alchemist here is close to our role as filmmakers. Like the medieval alchemists, we project our inner lives onto the materials of our work, what changes in matter changes in our psyche and vice versa. Every film we make is a journey of transformation for us, the way we experience it is very much like holding on to our conscious understanding while also opening ourselves up to the unknown. Whenever we truly open ourselves to things beyond our current understanding and confront our own limits, this always provokes a change. A change of consciousness, a letting go of habits, ideas and feelings that are no longer relevant, a discovery of new aspects of ourselves previously unexplored, a new understanding of cinematic possibilities.
Bradley: It is interesting that you see the alchemist as the closest to consciousness. In some ways I can see that. Especially if we take consciousness to be something like self-consciousness, the alchemist seems the most deliberate and self-aware. However I didn’t take the Alchemist to be associated with consciousness, I associated consciousness with the house. The house seems the closest to the action, things happen in the house. The alchemist seems detached, separate from the action and in a separate room. Consciousness, it could be said, is a process of ‘being in the action’ (even if the ‘action’ is a pretty banal one). This is why Heidegger described consciousness as ‘being in the world’, or Husserl in terms of the lifeworld, or Merleau-Ponty in terms of embodiment. Consciousness is a process of being in a body in the world, or more precisely, the way being in a body in the world appears to us. The Alchemist is, of course, in a body in a world, but that world seems detached from the main dream experience of the film. The alchemist, if we are going to understand her/him as an element of the psyche, strikes me as some kind of transcendental organiser of perception. Distant from consciousness, but somehow organising our thought and perception. So if we took the film as a whole to be a presentation of a stream of consciousness, the house seems to me to be the everyday conscious level, which is nonetheless interrupted by repressed memories (Adam and Eve) on one side, and some kind of transcendental organisation of perception (the Alchemist) on the other. It is as if these elements, often invisible in our usual conscious life become visible within the overall experience of the film.
As I write this I wonder if that might be closer to your understanding of the film (or maybe it is substantially different?). We both have different intellectual reference points and sometimes that seems to materialise in a different understanding of language and what is meant by particular words. So my first question is really one of whether we are understanding this film in similar or different ways.
Secondly, following on with the theme of having different intellectual (and artistic) reference points, I was wondering if you might want to say a little more about the influences on the film. Clearly we have already discussed some of this in terms of alchemy, the psyche, dreams and biblical stories, but over the last few sections of the interview I have also found it really productive to ask about your references. Sometimes I find the ‘What are your influences?’ question to be a pretty boring question, but with you two, maybe because there is an intellectual, spiritual and artistic journey attached to it, the answers are always interesting. So, what films, books and music influenced the film and how did they shape the film’s creative journey?
The Kingdom Of Shadows (2016, Daniel & Clara)
Daniel & Clara: In answer to the first question, it’s both! We understand this film in both similar and different ways. Art is a complex thing which has ambiguity and paradox woven into its fabric, no two people will ever truly have the same understanding of any work of art, there will always be a fluctuation of similarities and differences in how we see it. We never really expect anyone to have the same understanding of our films as we have, it is impossible and also beside the point. The truth is even our own understanding isn’t fixed, it changes from moment to moment, how we see a particular film now is different to how we saw it while making it and how we will see it in a year from now. It is fascinating that we can encounter a work of art time and again and try to approximate our understanding to the thing itself but then always rediscover something we never noticed before. As we change so the work changes, even though it also remains the same. This is a wonderful mystery!
As we do an experiment like this interview, where the three of us are very open about our thoughts, and are attempting to communicate through words things that really aren’t about words at all, what we discover is that we can find a place where our ideas meet and where we can stimulate in each other new ideas, new ways of seeing but it’s never about trying to make the other see the same. What is more interesting is how the ideas covered here activate something in each of us, for ourselves and hopefully also for the reader. There is no way anyone reading this will understand fully our own experience or yours, all they will get is hints and hopefully these hints will be of some use in their own journey.
As to our influences, there are a lot of things that have inspired this film and helped us to reach the places in ourselves where the images live, for now we’ll just focus on some filmmakers whose work we are influenced by and that have been particularly important for the making of The Kingdom Of Shadows:
Raúl Ruiz – his film City Of Pirates is a contender for our favourite film ever made. His approach to making films resonates with us deeply, his films are often created using very personal complex systems and structures that impact on every layer of his production – the dialogue, performances, use of camera and light, the editing, sound, music – everything will be dealt with through the particular system of that film. This creates some of the most original, at times confounding, works of cinema that exist. Often on first viewing we find ourselves unsure as to what we are even seeing but on repeated viewings you can tune into the unusual frequency of this universe and begin to understand something. They are like initiations in a way, you can’t expect them to deliver their secrets up front, you must go on a journey with them, you must sacrifice your expectations and desire to control, but when you do, you are rewarded with the most incredible gifts! We strongly recommend his book Poetics of Cinema, one of the most insightful musings on cinema and filmmaking we’ve ever read.
A quote from Ruiz: “If you can make it complicated, why make it simple?”
Derek Jarman – talking about Jarman is very hard for us, our relationship to his work is very personal and in a way we see him as a foundational figure for everything we make, if he hadn’t existed we probably would not be doing what we are doing. His whole approach to making films, his creative philosophy and love of life inspire us endlessly, he is our guiding light. Like ours, Jarman’s films are that of an artist but made for the cinema, he draws equally on the history of painting, theatre, literature, poetry and cinema. He was also very much informed by the writings of Carl Jung and alchemy, and when watching his films with this in mind you can see how much his process, symbolic language and film structures have grown from this.
A quote from Jarman: “We are all accomplices in the dream world of the soul.”
Jacques Rivette – Rivette’s films Duelle, Noroît, Out 1 and Céline and Julie Go Boating are very influential on everything we make. These are absolutely magical pieces of cinema, at first glance they seem very simple in their components but once you enter into the world he presents they grow in complexity and mystery. His films exist in a world of fantasy which looks just like the real world but where everyone seems as if they are enchanted, it’s the act of performing itself, telling stories and playing games that are the central concerns of his work. There are always mysteries to solve, clues, riddles and maps used as narrative devices – but more than wanting to get to the bottom of it all, the purpose is in spending time with those characters and surrendering to the mystery.
A quote from Rivette: “In films, what is important is the point where the film no longer has an auteur, where it has no more actors, no more story even, no more subject, nothing but the film itself speaking and saying something that can’t be translated: the point where it becomes the discourse of someone or something else, which cannot be said, precisely because it is beyond expression.”
Věra Chytilová – it is probably clearer in our film Savage Witches how Chytilová has inspired us, we found in her work some tools we’d been searching for at that time, she helped us articulate through the moving image something that we felt abstractly in our bones. All her work is incredible, she was continuously experimenting, never settling into an easy form or repeating something that had worked previously. She was dedicated to confronting viewing expectations as well as social expectations, never giving anyone a chance to think they hold the final truth – for her it was essential to create disruptions, to be critical and to push the viewer into an awareness that they are creating their own meaning, but without ever sacrificing a sense of aesthetic pleasure, joy and compassion. Her two most famous films Daisies and Fruits Of Paradise have clearly impacted on our use of lenses, colour and movement. If Savage Witches owes a debt to Daisies then The Kingdom Of Shadows owes something to Fruits Of Paradise, but not only because it is also a retelling of Adam & Eve, it is something in the atmosphere of fantasy that shifts between playful and foreboding, the way the actors move through the environments and the feeling that the mud and vegetation around the characters are living conscious things.
A quote from Chytilová: “You don’t really begin working creatively until you are at a point where you don’t know.”
Meredith Monk – Monk’s work, like ours, makes use of layers of archetypes, personal myth and cultural myths in order to dig deeper into what it is to be a human being and to live a human life. Throughout all of her work making music, dance and film, she has created a wonderful study of cyclical and spiral movements, repetitions that never lead you to the same place twice but seem to create a sense of unfolding, revealing deeper layers of feeling, thought and even physical experience. We are very inspired by her unique work on developing the human body and voice as an instrument for expression, bringing together techniques from various disciplines such as song, dance, theatre, spiritual practices and ritual, in a sense working from the awareness that the human body is the most ancient instrument and can reach furthest into the past as into the future.
A quote from Monk: “There is art that states the problems of society and wakes people up to make changes in their lives or in their communities,… art that offers an alternative, that demonstrates human behaviour that can become a model for creativity, cooperation, freedom and playfulness,… and art that in itself provides glimpses of a larger consciousness or reflects upon the inexplicable.”
Jane Arden – Arden was a Welsh playwright, actress, poet and filmmaker who made three extraordinary feature films between 1968 and 1979, as well as several experimental theatre plays in London. The films were made in close collaboration with Jack Bond. Her films feel as if they exist somewhere between Peter Brook, Ken Russell and Ingmar Bergman, they are formally experimental and intensely dedicated to expressing the inner experiences of her characters, mostly focusing on female experiences and the pressures that exist between the self and societal and cultural judgements and expectations. Our favourite film of hers, The Other Side of the Underneath, is a harrowing emotional expression of the pain, rage and madness of repressed and oppressed women in a mental asylum, struggling to put some kind of sense of identity back together from the fragments of their own shattered selves. For the shooting of this film the cast went to live together in the farm used as location for the whole period of the shoot, and they got a lot of locals involved as well as actual psychiatric hospital patients, creating a kind of communal theatrical experiment similar to group therapy.
Unfortunately we couldn’t find a quote from Jane Arden, but here is a line from her film The Other Side of the Underneath: “Right, right, little girl – not right! Either you want a magic act, or you don’t!”
Frans Zwartjes – resting heavily on the silent language of early cinema and the transgressive performance rituals of filmmakers like Jack Smith, Zwartjes created an island all of his own hidden in a mysterious far off sea in the great ocean of cinema. A world driven by erotic desire infused with a surrealistic tendency, his films are windows into a private space that once you start looking into, you find your gaze fixed. We owe much to this incredible filmmaker and, like Rivette, Monk and Arden, the influence is probably most pronounced in the area of performance, approaching directing actors as simultaneously puppets or props that we move around but also allowing them a space to play out their own psychodrama, using the ritual of playing a role as a moment to encounter the character within themselves.
A quote from Zwartjes: “My own motor system determined the film style, it never occurred to me to wonder: can this shot follow on after that one?”